Effective School-Based Substance Use Prevention Programs
Wellspring’s effective approaches to school-based alcohol and other drug prevention include teaching students how to resist peer influences, improving life skills, involving families, and providing opportunities to become involved in positive experiences with others in the school and community.
When most people think of prevention, they think of school programs. Unfortunately, if you ask any child, you will learn that too many programs do no good at all or even encourage experimentation with alcohol and other drugs. At Wellspring, we know our programs are effective because they have all been rigorously evaluated to document their impact.
Wellspring’s Pathways program is a school-based clinical service that provides custom-tailored, collaborative, school-based programs, such as mental health counseling, structured recreation, psycho-education, and skill-building. Visit our School-Based Clinical Services page for more information.
The LifeSkills Training (LST) program is a school-based substance abuse prevention curriculum.
LST originally targeted middle and junior high school students but is now used with elementary and high school students as well.
The program was developed in the late 1970s and aims to modify drug-related knowledge, attitudes, and norms; teach skills for resisting social influences that encourage drug use; and foster the development of general personal and social skills.
The program originally focused on preventing cigarette smoking, and the curriculum was later expanded to include preventing the use of alcohol and other drugs.
The LST curriculum is taught over three consecutive school years, beginning in the 6th and 7th grade. The program consists of 15 lessons in the first year, followed by 10 “booster” lessons during the program’s second year and 5 booster lessons in the third year.
The booster lessons are designed to reinforce earlier material and to provide additional opportunities for skill development and practice. There is also an LST curriculum for elementary school children, beginning in 3rd or 4th grade, and for high school students, beginning in 9th or 10th grade. Regular classroom teachers usually implement the LST curriculum; however, the program can be implemented by outside health professionals or older student peers.
Rather than merely teaching information about the dangers of drug abuse, LST promotes healthy alternatives to risky behavior through activities designed to:
- Teach students the necessary skills to resist social (peer) pressures to smoke, drink, and use drugs
- Help students to develop greater self-‐esteem and self-‐confidence
- Enable students to effectively cope with anxiety
- Increase their knowledge of the immediate consequences of substance abuse
- Enhance cognitive and behavioral competency to reduce and prevent a variety of health risk behaviors
The LST program may be used with elementary, middle and junior high, or high school students. It has been studied extensively with white, middle-class participants from suburban and rural areas, as well as with African-American and Hispanic youth in urban settings.
The program has been evaluated in various formats and for effectiveness at reducing risky behaviors in several samples of students since its inception.
Program impacts have been assessed immediately following program completion and at intervals up to six years later. Implementation of the program has varied somewhat in length (12 to 20 sessions, with the average being 15) and format of program delivery (e.g., teacher-led versus peer-led, intensive mini-course versus regular weekly sessions, and implementation feedback for teachers versus no feedback).
More recently, the program has been modified for use with elementary students. In addition, studies have tested the effects of an added violence-reduction component and whether LST concepts are effective when infused into the content of students’ daily classroom curricula.
Outcomes measured include impacts on driving behavior, HIV-risk behavior, aggression, and substance use—cigarette use only, alcohol use only, or cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana use.
Description of Program
Safe Dates is an evidence-based program that targets attitudes and behaviors associated with dating abuse and violence. Dating abuse is a factor often linked to alcohol and drug abuse. Safe Dates is used as a prevention or early intervention tool. Through interactive lessons, students learn the difference between caring, healthy relationships and manipulative, abusive relationships. The program is offered to both male and female high school students.
The goals of Safe Dates are to raise student awareness of what constitutes healthy and abusive dating relationships, raise student awareness of dating abuse and its causes and consequences, equip students with the skills and resources to help themselves or friends in abusive dating relationships, and equip students with the skills to develop healthy dating relationships, including positive communication, anger management, and conflict resolution.
Safe Dates consists of five components. The curriculum is nine weeks long and includes information for parents and teachers as well. Each session is 45-50 minutes in length and comprises of the following topics—defining caring relationships, defining dating abuse, why people abuse, helping friends, overcoming gender stereotypes, equal power through communication, how we feel/how we deal, and preventing sexual assault.
Research showed that Safe Dates revealed many positive outcomes. Adolescents participating in the program reported less acceptance of dating violence, stronger communication and anger management skills, less gender stereotyping, and heightened awareness for community services for dating abuse.
A follow-up study was conducted four years after implementation and revealed that those who participated reported 56 percent to 92 percent less physical and sexual dating violence than those who did not participate in the program.
Forest Friends is a puppet-based primary prevention program designed to help children ages 5-9 learn skills in conflict resolution, decision-making and anger management.
The program is designed to equip children with the coping skills they will need to enable them to grow up resilient to the risks of violence and substance abuse. Each story helps children recognize common reactions to life situations. These youngsters are then given alternative methods to deal more positively with anger, disappointment, peer pressure, and confrontational conflicts.
Forest Friends is designed to help children learn basic life skills and character enhancement that they will use their entire life. Each session includes a story portrayed by animal puppets, a discussion and an activity to reinforce the lesson conveyed by the story. Presented weekly for six weeks, the stories build off one another so that each presentation teaches a lesson while reinforcing previous lessons. All eyes are locked on the lovable puppets that take center stage.
Forest Friends addresses the following topics:
- Lesson 1: Feelings
- Lesson 2: Truth and Trust
- Lesson 3: Making Decisions
- Lesson 4: Anger/Conflict Management
- Lesson 5: Coping Skills
- Lesson 6: Review
The children can identify with the realistic situations the puppets encounter in Forest Friends, and learn how to emotionally deal with similar situations in their own life. Through evaluations given to each teacher at the completion of the program, the following outcomes have been observed from their students; increased interpersonal and developmental skills, increased expression of feelings in an appropriate manner, students plan ahead and consider the positive and negative consequences in their decision making practices, increased coping skills in sad situations, and students turning to someone they can trust for support.
We’re Not Buying It 2.0 (WNBI 2.0)TM is a substance abuse prevention program that focuses on developing media literacy skills among sixth through eighth-grade students.
Developed by Wellspring Center for Prevention (formerly NCADD of Middlesex County, Inc.), WNBI 2.0 uses prevention education strategies to reduce early first use of alcohol, marijuana, and prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as bullying behavior. A primary focus is on raising awareness of messages about substance abuse and bullying that are included in popular, non-advertisement media.
The original version of the program was developed in 2000 as We’re Not Buying It: The Alcohol and Tobacco Connection. It consisted of four lessons exploring alcohol and tobacco print advertising. In 2010, an extensive revision of the program began. Recognizing that media consumption by youth had shifted dramatically over the last decade (Rideout, Foehr & Roberts, 2010; Madden, Lenhart, Duggan, Cortesi & Gasser, 2013; Zickuhr, 2010; Common Sense Media, 2012), print advertising was eliminated from the curriculum. It was replaced by popular music, television, movies and social media such as YouTube and Facebook. As part of this revision, tobacco was dropped from the program, and marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as bullying (including cyber-bullying) were added to the curriculum. Capitalizing on the new media focus, the program was rechristened “We’re Not Buying It 2.0” and debuted in classrooms in 2012.
Independent analysis of the data was conducted by Rutgers University’s Institute for Families Office of Research and Evaluation. The evaluation identified several statistically significant, positive outcomes related to participation in the We’re Not Buying It 2.0 program:
- First, subjects developed more realistic perceptions of the number of friends and students engaging in substance use and bullying behavior
- Second, findings indicate a statistically-significant reduction in the influence of peers on participants’ substance use and bullying behavior. Interpreting this finding, however, is somewhat difficult as it is unclear whether students feel they are less influenced by peers or recognize that they are more influenced by other sources.
- The third promising finding was an increased ability to identify a pro-use message in a popular song. This statistically-significant increase from pretest to post-test suggests that students gained media literacy skills through participation in the WNBI program.
- Finally, subjects indicated that they were more likely to react proactively to media messages promoting substance use and/or bullying after completing the program. By post-test, subjects were significantly less likely not to do anything, more likely to turn off the radio and more likely to refuse to buy a song if it contained a favorable substance use message. This suggests that students gained skills that would help them to refuse media messages about substance use and bullying.
The program now includes six units that are delivered over a six-week time period by a certified prevention educator. The sessions include a mix of lectures, discussions and activities designed to last 40-45 minutes each.
Parents want to protect their children at all costs. However, sometimes this is challenging. Learning to overcome difficult situations in life—peer pressure, stress, or lack of strong familial relationships—is a two-way street. Youth need skills to help them resist the peer pressure that leads to risky behaviors while parents/caregivers need skills to communicate with youth and be aware of potentially risky behaviors. Research shows that protective parenting improves family relationships and decreases the level of family conflict, contributing to lower levels of substance use.
The Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 (SFP 10-14) has made a difference in thousands of families in all 50 states and in over 25 countries.
SFP 10-14 is taught with 8-10 families over seven weeks, usually in the evenings. Each session is approximately 2 ½ hours in length. The first half hour consists of a family dinner. Families are encouraged to sit together and have dinner, an important protective factor for families to have. The goal is to have this translate over into the families’ homes. Parents and youth then meet in separate groups for the first hour and together as families during the second hour to practice skills, play games, and do family projects. Sessions are highly interactive and include role-playing, discussions, learning games, and family projects.
Parent sessions consist of presentations, role-plays, group discussions, and other skill-building activities. Youth sessions engage each youth in small and large group discussions, group skill practice, and social bonding activities. Family sessions use specially designed games and projects to increase family bonding, build positive communication skills, and facilitate learning to solve problems together. It is recommended that the group size be smaller when dealing with families where parents have begun to have concerns over the problematic behavior of their youth.
Four optional booster sessions may be held three to twelve months after the initial program.
This evidence-based curriculum helps parents/caregivers learn nurturing skills that support their children, teaches parents/caregivers how to effectively discipline and guide their youth, gives youth a healthy future orientation and an increased appreciation of their parents/caregivers, and teaches youth skills on dealing with stress and peer pressure.
Implementing The Strengthening Families Program: For Parents and Youth 10-14 resulted in youth having significantly lower rates of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use compared to those who did not participate in the program. Youth involved with SFP 10-14 also had fewer conduct problems in school. Parents showed an increase in parenting skills and general child management as well as an increase in positive feelings toward their child. Research also showed that differences between the control group and the experimental group increased over time. For example, the strength of family relationships continued to increase for the experimental group once the program was over as compared to the control group.
Keys to InnerVisions (KIV)
Wellspring’s Keys To Innervisions (KIV) program teaches youth how to change their beliefs and self-talk in order to change their behaviors. The program helps students cope with life stressors. It also teaches goal setting, new ways of thinking, and new skills to use in stressful situations.
KIV has been evaluated independently by Rutgers University and has demonstrated significant knowledge, attitude and behavioral change on the individual level. Identified by the New Jersey Division of Addiction Services as an evidence-based program.
Risk Factors Addressed: School drop-out; Academic failure; Early anti-social behavior; Favorable attitudes toward ATOD
Target Population: Grades 6-9 in a small group setting
CSAP Strategy: Prevention Education
Process: Fifteen (15) one-hour sessions
Evaluation Measures: Pre- and post-program instruments reflecting: Increase knowledge & attitudes regarding ATOD issues; Increase internal locus of control; and, Demonstrate reduced incidence of suspension
Footprints for Life
Through the use of puppets and stories that feature real-life situations experienced by a children’s soccer team, the Footprints for Life program offers many opportunities for students to practice the new skills they have learned in a fun and non-threatening way. Check out our new Footprints for Life website for more information.